02/21/2012 12:50 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Historic Evening at the 43rd Annual NAACP Image Awards: Viola Davis Salutes Whitney Houston and Sidney, Harry and Cicely Steal the Show

Los Angeles is the epicenter of the entertainment world and in no other place has there been such a communal expression of grief over the past two weeks. The death of Whitney Houston has shocked the world and emotionally traumatized the entertainment community. Yet, in the immediate wake of Ms. Houston's passing, some of the greatest entertainers in the world have had to compartmentalize their grief to attended the Grammy Awards, as well as, the NAACP Image Awards in Los Angeles, California.

The Grammy Awards was attended by Whitney Houston's colleagues, who watched her rise to the top and become the greatest female Pop Artist in the world. There were younger accomplished artist, like Alisha Keyes, Jennifer Hudson, Kelly Rowland and Rihanna, who relish her long-term success and dream of achieving her worldwide super-stardom. Then, there were relative new comers like, Adele, Nikki Minaj and Bruno Mars who will forever imagine what it would have felt like to see Whitney Houston standing in the audience applauding their performance. The Grammy Awards was filled with Whitney Houston's peers, who were also admirers of her velvety voice, her range that exceeded the keys on the piano and her smile that radiated in front of any lens that captured her beauty.

The 43rd Annual NAACP Image Awards, a ceremony that traditionally celebrates the talents and achievements of artists of color in the world of music, television, film and literature, was filled with artists who felt as if one of their family members had been taken too soon. Whitney Houston's death impacted the African-American community more dramatically than even the death of Micheal Jackson. Whereas, Micheal Jackson belonged to the world first; Whitney was a crowing jewel of the African-American community, despite her confessed weaknesses. Whitney was an ordinary black woman with extraordinary talent. She was from an ordinary black family who showed her extraordinary love. She grew up in a Baptist church, was raised in the inner city of Newark and her mother was the rearing parent in her faith-based home. No matter how high Whitney Houston's star rose, she forever stayed grounded in the pride and responsibility of being a strong black women.

At the Image Awards, on the red carpet, the constant and passionate expressions of overwhelming loss were very intimate and personal. The shock and sadness had yet to diminish over the six days since Whitney's Houston's death and many artists wanted to share their feelings of pain. Holly Robinson Peete told stories of how Whitney changed her life with words of wisdom. Award-Winning actress and singer Jennifer Lewis wanted to speak directly to the world through The Huffington Post. 2012 Oscar nominated actress, Viola Davis, Oscar Nominated actress Taraji P Henson, Vanessa Williams, Tatyana Ali, BET CEO Debra Lee, and others, shared how Whitney Houston influenced their lives and careers. These testimonies spoke volumes to who Whitney Houston was as a woman, not just an artist.

Whitney Houston's untimely death affected the masses personally and as expected, altered the production of the NAACP Image Awards show. In speaking with Adam Blackstone, the young and brilliant music director of the Image Awards, he shared that many artist offered their willingness to participate in the tribute for Whitney Houston. Everyone knew that the old adage: "The show must go on" was never more true than on that night -- and the 43rd Annual NAACP Image Awards did go on, and in stellar fashion.

NBC was finally back broadcasting the show after years on FOX to the excitement of NAACP and NBC executives. The show opened with Lenny Kravitz rocking sounds from yesterday and today. The evening's hosts, Sanaa Lathan and Anthony Mackie had great chemistry. They remembered their cues and mastered the teleprompter without the awkwardness sometimes seen at award shows. Laurence Fishburn, Jennifer Hudson, Regina King and LL Cool J accepted their honors with surprise and graciousness. Samuel L. Jackson, Holly Robinson Peete, Vanessa Williams and Lou Gosset Jr. made presentations that felt natural, although scripted. The pinnacle of the evening's presentation was experiencing the legendary, Mr. Harry Belafonte and Mr. Sidney Poitier unite on the stage. Greatness is colorblind. When the two distinguished men walked to the podium the audience stood to their feet (The audience demographic was wonderfully diverse. It looked to be almost 40 percent Caucasian in the very large lower level and everyone stood). The thespians commanded the stage with humor and charm. It was a magical moment.


In every well-produced award ceremonies, there comes a point in which the show takes on an energy and a creative genius of its own. Intertwined with the giving of awards and the brief acceptance speeches, a powerful historical tapestry was being stitched within the 43rd Annual NAACP Image Awards ceremony. As "it" was happening, you could feel something special in the air. The 43rd Annual Image Awards was becoming less about the talented artists receiving awards and more about the impact legendary individuals have had in the entertainment world over the years. During a commercial break, Mr. Belafonte, Mr.Poitier and nominee, Ms. Cicely Tyson were gathered casually speaking at the front of the auditorium. Suddenly people began to applaud and media cameras descended to capture the struggle, success and influence of the NAACP; all embodied in hearts of these three luminaries. This trio of Greatness, shattered artistic glass ceilings and they have the scars from charred glass to prove it. They knocked down the walls of civil injustice. These warriors for the arts, fought for decades so that their God-given talents could be shared with the world. They had an elegant, captivating and unshakable presence that mesmerized the audience. Thousands of people held up their phones in the hopes of capturing history in their hands.

George Lucas was presented the NAACP Vanguard Award by Samuel Jackson, Terrance Howard and Cuba Gooding Jr. In 2012, at the Shine Auditorium, I sat and listened to a white man tell of the ever-present roadblocks that exist in making a film that tells the story of a black experience, starring black actors and directed by a black director. George Lucas, a white man with a black girlfriend, was receiving the Vanguard Award because he has been a visionary and pioneer in the world of film-making for over 30 years. Yet, a large percentage of the millions of viewers now know George Lucas as the white man who spent 23 years of his life and $53 million dollars of his own money, to tell a story about the skill, tenacity and courage of the Tuskegee Airmen in Red Tails. George Lucas believed in the importance of sharing the Red Tails story of the discrimination they experienced, and overcame. Lucas too, believes that Greatness is colorblind. In the middle of the orchestra section sat the Tuskegee Red Tail Airmen, eight elderly men and one woman dressed in uniforms. As they slowly rose to be recognized, the auditorium thundered with applause and people stood proudly to honor these brave historical figures. History was stitching another patch in the evening's tapestry.

It was quite appropriate that The Help was awarded the final NAACP Image Award statue of the evening -- the Best Picture Award. Viola Davis, who won an Image Award for Best Leading Actress in a Motion Picture spoke eloquently of her pride in playing the role of a domestic whose life was bigger than the job she held. The Help gives its audience a sneak peek into the complex, interracial, hierarchical relationships that existed between white employers and their black employees. What a perfect night for Mr. Sidney Poitier, Mr. Harry Belafonte and Ms. Cicely Tyson to participate, as living examples, that despite the racism, hardships and improbabilities rampant during The Help era, GREATNESS will fight through adversities and claim its rightful place in history.